Below, you’ll see seven of the best fat burning strategies which keep your hormones happy and your metabolism burning hot.
Eat more! You need a caloric deficit for weight loss, but there are different ways to do it. You can eat less. You can exercise more. You can do a little bit of both. In addition, how specifically you eat less and exercise more makes all the difference. The smart way is to avoid crash diets and pursue slower but steady fat loss with an eye on body composition. Start with a conservative deficit of only 20% below your maintenance level. Use a larger deficit only if you’re seriously overweight. Increase the deficit incrementally when you need to, ideally not going above 30% under maintenance. When you add in resistance training, cardio training and an active lifestyle, your calorie expenditure (metabolism) goes way up, and that’s how you can legitimately eat more and keep getting leaner.
Eat natural. The long term use of refined, artificial foods will eventually take its toll on your health. When hormonal health declines, body composition outcomes are worse during weight loss and risk of metabolic damage may increase. Furthermore, most natural, unprocessed foods, especially vegetables and lean proteins, are lower in caloric density and can lead to spontaneous decreases in caloric intake compared to the standard American diet (S.A.D.) For optimal body composition results and metabolic and hormonal health, it’s not just about calorie quantity, but also calorie quality. Don’t focus on one to the neglect of the other.
Eat often and regularly: I recommend eating like a physique athlete. Spread your total daily calories into 4-6 small meals per day, if feasible, and be sure to include a source of lean protein with every meal. But whatever meal schedule you choose, consistency is of great importance: studies have shown that haphazard eating patterns are at least partially responsible for metabolic disarray including decreased thermic effect of feeding and dysregulation of blood sugar and insulin.
Use carb cycling. . Instead of the carb-phobic diets that millions of people still follow (which can actually suppress hormones like thyroid and leptin), carb cycling with a high carb refeed every 4th day or so, allows you to eat more carbs and you still keep losing fat. The benefits are physical and psychological and best part is, you’re never completely deprived.
Take Diet breaks: Avoid prolonged periods in aggressive caloric deficits. If you have a lot of fat to lose and it’s going to take more than 3 months to hit your long term fat loss goal, don’t do it all in one stretch. Take a week at maintenance calories after 12 weeks of restricted dieting. This – raising your calories - is the most counter-intuitive of all the metabolism-rebuilding strategies but it’s one of the most important.
Do Cardio. Don’t Over-Do It. If you’re overweight, you can sometimes get away with very low calorie diets without adverse consequences if you’re not doing tons of cardio on top of it. Endurance athletes get away with high volume training because they provide ample amounts of food to fuel it (man, those guys can EAT!) Dieters and physique competitors on the other hand, often semi-starve themselves while doing huge amounts of cardio at the same time. Exercise research says that extreme amounts of cardio during a diet can actually cause the same type of adaptive metabolic downshift as eating too little food. Fitness and figure competitors have been known to do 2 or even 3 hours of cardio a day before competitions. This kind of overtraining can be counter-productive when you look at the metabolic damage and “cardio dependency” potential. And remember, if you’re not diligent, you can out-eat almost any amount of exercise. If you’re doing upwards of an hour of cardio a day and not seeing significant fat loss, you’d better take a close look at your diet first before you rush to add more cardio.
Weight training: In the physique world, weight training is a foregone conclusion. But in the everyday world of non-athletes, weight loss = “diet,” not weight loss = “lift weights.” For Suzy soccer mom, “lift weights to lose weight” probably doesn't even compute. But weight training is so important for metabolic health and better body composition, that if you were forced to choose one or the other – cardio or weights – the weightlifting would be a NO BRAINER decision. If you have a concern about metabolic damage and you’re not weight training yet, there’s nothing else to discuss. Start pumping iron, then get back to me.
Easing into more calories and more carbs with a transitional period
If you think you’re in the same boat: (A) it seems like you’re not eating that much, but you’re not losing fat and or (B) you’ve finally reached your goal but you’re terrified of regaining if you raise your calories, you should use the same 7 strategies to get your metabolism back in gear. You simply need to add a “transition period” to build your calories back up slowly.
If you’re worried about suddenly increasing your calories, you’re not paranoid – you’re prudent. After becoming accustomed and somewhat adapted to a lower caloric intake, avoid abruptly jumping up to your predicted maintenance level. Instead, increase calories slowly 100-200 at a time and hold them there for one week. Measure the results after each one week phase, and then repeat until you reach your appropriate deficit or maintenance level. This will give your body and your mind time to adjust. Here’s another safe way to ease into a higher food intake. This is ideal if you’ve been on a low calorie, low carb diet and you want to ease out of it. Add carbs, but start by adding them only in the post workout meal. During the post-training window of opportunity, not only will the carbs NOT get stored as fat, (they’ll get sucked right up into muscle glycogen), this strategy can dramatically improve your body composition and workout recovery.
If you still feel discouraged despite now having these strategies at your fingertips, then take one last sigh of relief. The good news is, even in extreme cases, these nutrition and training principles work! It just takes a little longer.
Thom Seehafer is a martial artist, body-builder and part-owner of Body Solutions Rx.